The United States Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to throw out employment discrimination lawsuits from former Catholic school teachers.
SCOTUS ruled 7-2 that the former teachers’ employment discrimination suits are barred by “ministerial exception.” Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.
In his opinion, Alito said that under the “ministerial exception,” courts must “stay out of employment disputes involving those holding certain important positions with churches and other religious institutions.”
“It is instructive to consider why a church’s independence on matters ‘of faith and doctrine’ requires the authority to select, supervise, and if necessary, remove a minister without interference by secular authorities,” Alito wrote.
“Without that power, a wayward minister’s preaching, teaching, and counseling could contradict the church’s tenets and lead the congregation away from the faith. The ministerial exception was recognized to preserve a church’s independent authority in such matters.”
The case involved two elementary school teachers at different Catholic schools within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Agnes Morrissey-Berru taught at Our Lady of Guadalupe School and Kristen Biel taught at St. James School.
#SCOTUS rules 7-2 that employment discrimination suits by teachers fired by Catholic elementary schools are barred by “ministerial exception”
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) July 8, 2020
Both Morrissey-Berru and Biel were employed under agreements that as Catholic school teachers at their specific schools, they would “set out the schools’ mission to develop and promote a Catholic School faith community.”
“Each was also required to comply with her school’s faculty handbook, which set out similar expectations,” the courts’ ruling stated. “Each taught religion in the classroom, worshipped with her students, prayed with her students, and had her performance measured on religious bases. Both teachers sued their schools after their employment was terminated.”
Morrissey-Berru said that her school had discriminated against her based on age, while Biel said that her school discharged her after she requested a leave of absence to get breast cancer treatment.
“We applaud the Supreme Court for recognizing that the Constitution bars the government from interfering in the independent employment decisions of religious organizations,” First Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said in a statement.
First Liberty had filed an amicus brief in support of Our Lady of Guadalupe School urging SCOTUS to preserve the school’s First Amendment rights.
“There should no longer be any doubt that religious schools and institutions have the right to freely choose who will preach their religious message, teach their religious doctrine, and lead our future generations according to their religious tradition,” he added.
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